Chinese Scallion Pancakes

January 23, 2009

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Over the past couple of years, the HH and I have developed a fairly steadfast routine: every Tuesday at mid day, we connect for a hefty serving of afternoon delight. (No, no debauchery, silly! Forget the cheeesy song.  I’m talking about afternoon culinary delight).  To wit, food. To wit, Japanese food. To wit, Sushi. 

As our own unique twist on “date night,” we have “date lunch”:  at a little sushi bar near the HH’s place of employ, he feasts on various species of marine life (well, I suppose that would more properly be “marine after-life”), and I enjoy some of the best vegetarian sushi I’ve ever tasted.  While clacking chopsticks, slathering wasabi and dipping into soy sauce, he reports on his recent work projects, while I regale him with anecdotes about The Girls’ antics. We eat, we laugh, we fight over who gets the last piece of pickled ginger, and then we kiss goodbye and go about the rest of our day.  It’s a lovely interlude in an otherwise bland workday. 

Well, a few weeks ago at the habitual time and place, I was devastated to discover that the establishment had unceremoniously changed owners.  Oh, the new folks are nice enough, but the distinctive sheen of the place had definitely tarnished. (The new vegetarian option consists of 8 pieces of cucumber and avocado maki.  Now, how could they possibly think vegetarians want 8 identical pieces of a single variety, when the HH gets a full dozen varieties of raw, slimy oceanic tidbits on his plate?).  Haven’t these people heard of the expression, “If it ain’t broke. . .”?   Harrumph.

Being fairly close to Toronto’s Chinatown North, we opted that day to try one of the many Asian restaurants in the vicinity instead.  I assumed I’d have no trouble finding plenty to eat. 

Well, you know what they say about assumptions.  (No? It’s even too puerile to repeat here.  But there are plenty of others out there who’ll tell you.) I sat down feeling peckish. Perusing the menu, I quickly discovered there was precious little I could consume save steamed veggies and rice.  (Not that there’s anything wrong wtih steamed veggies and rice, you understand, but I get plenty of those at home–and certainly don’t feel like driving halfway across the city and dishing out restaurant prices for someone else to throw them on a plate for me). 

Yes, every single dish contained at least one ingredient I can’t eat. The few animal-free options all contained wheat (another no-no). Listed under “Vegetable Dishes,” we had Vegetables and Ground Beef; Vegetables and Pork Stir-Fry;  Egg Noodles with Vegetables; Chicken and Shrimp with Vegetables.  Even the “Vegetable Dumplings” contained ground pork.  Argh!  (And another “harrumph,” just for good measure. ) Would I have to sit there starving*, I wondered, while the HH gorged himself on beef, chicken, and pork-laden vegetables?

 And then, I noticed these:  Scallion Pancakes.  Simplicity itself, these pan-fried cakes studded with rings of shiny green onion were cut into four triangles, served with a variety of dipping sauces.  Humble, yet divine; my mouth began to water. And then, I realized:  they were made with wheat flour.  Which I am not supposed to eat. 

True, my wheat sensitivity induces heartburn, bloating, and sometimes an achy stomach a couple of hours after ingesting it.  True,  wheat encourages my inflamed sinuses to close up shop entirely, forcing me to pant through my mouth like a dog in July.  True, any sane person in my situation would have passed on the wheat. Also true?  I was hungry.  Those pancakes were the sole item on the menu that appealed to me. I ordered them.

And, by golly, I loved them! (Well, for about 10 minutes, after which a volcano erupted in my chest, my stomach inflated like a beach ball, and my nasal passages sealed up like a mine shaft collapsing). 

After reading about Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian several times on Lisa’s blog, I finally picked it up from the library a few weeks ago.  And wouldn’t you know–right there, tucked near the back of the book, was a recipe for Chinese Scallion Cakes!  I was elated.  Since the entire recipe contains only five ingredients (two of which are salt and pepper), I felt pretty certain I could adapt these with (Ricki-friendly) spelt flour instead of wheat.  I did, and guess what?  They replicated the restaurant variety almost perfectly. 

The HH and I were so smitten with the results that we polished off two pancakes just on their own, with no accompaniments.  The second time round, we used them as a base for leftover dal, and they were spectacular.  I’m not generally a fan of salty foods, but something about the combination of salt and browned green onion (or would that be green browned onion?) is heavenly. 

I toned down the fat content by simply brushing the raw pancakes with olive oil (instead of following the original directions for filling a frypan with the stuff, as if drawing a bubble bath or something).  The results worked out pretty well, I’d say, as I couldn’t tell the difference in taste.

These boasted a crisp and even somewhat flaky exterior, with chewy insides punctuated here and there by the partially caramelized green onion.  My only regret is not having coarse sea salt in the house to sprinkle on top, as it would have made for a more photogenic bread.  (You’re actually meant to sprinkle the salt into the batter, anyway–but I forgot, so scattered it on top once the bread was cooked).

I’ve copied the recipe exactly as written because the method is quite particular.  It appears long and complicated, but once you’ve made them once, you’ll see how easy it is to prepare these wonderful savory cakes at home. I’d even whip them up for a quick lunch–except not on the days I meet the HH, of course. 

(Oh, and I made these again this morning, in honor of Chinese New Year.  Happy New Year to all who celebrate on Monday! )

*Clearly, not literally. But in terms of gustatory satisfaction, for sure.

Chinese Scallion Pancakes

adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

gronionpancake3

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Today began like most other mornings:  a wet, cold nose against my ear (that would be Chaser, not the HH) rousing me from sleep; a quick (warm, dry) kiss to the HH; and popping (okay, more like fizzling) out of bed before stretching, going through the usual ablutions and tramping over to the office to turn on the computer and check out some blogs.  For our lazy Sunday morning (after shovelling the additional 15 cm./ 6 inches of snow that arrived overnight, of course), I thought I might make some pancakes for breakfast–maybe banana; maybe apple.

Then I read Ruth’s Hannukah (or, for us Canadians, Chanukah) post and before I knew it, I was craving potato pancakes (aka latkes). 

Which is weird, because I hate latkes.

Let me explain.  Over the years, I’ve sampled many different kinds of potato latkes in many different kitchens; and I can honestly tell you I haven’t enjoyed a single one. (Sorry, Mrs. D who kindly invited me to her Rosh Hashanah table back in university; sorry, all my friends who’ve been generous enough to share; sorry, Aunty M. and CBC; sorry, all those caterers whose miniature pancakes I’ve sampled at festive tables in the past). 

Given that I adore home fries and even hash browns, this latke enmity always seemed odd to me.  But whenever I’d try again, the results were the same: the pancakes in question were very heavy, very greasy, and fairly bland, with a high-gloss exterior and mushy, mealy insides.  Was I missing something?  Is there some kind of Freemason-like secret latke society that knows something those of us using the regular latke recipes don’t know? Or was I simply hanging around with horrible cooks?

Whatever; I decided to change all that this morning.  That plate of latkes (and the explanatory article that Ruth included, as well) simply caught my fancy, and I had to have latkes!

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After a quick tour using Veg Blog Search, I uncovered a large selection of options.  There were traditional potato latkes, those made entirely from sweet potatoestraditional latkes with cool toppings, and a whole bunch of trail-blazing atypical latkes. I decided to base my own version on Bryanna’s fat-free potato and sweet potato pancakes.  I loved the combination of both types of spud, both for color and nutrition, and I thought a lower-fat version would be good at this time of year as well (I did add 2 Tbsp./15 ml. olive oil to the mixture to enhance the flavors a little).  This was also the perfect excuse to use my cast iron skillet yet once more–something I’ve been doing at every available opportunity the past few weeks as I endeavor to render it truly non-stick (so far, no luck).

I’m happy to report that the Latke Loathing has been vanquished, once and for all! (Must have been those sweet potatoes). The HH was also a fan.  We had ours with a slightly unconventional topping, a balsamic-fig sauce that was given to me a few weeks back  (more typical accompaniments include sour cream or applesauce).  What a fabulous combination!  The cakes were decidedly not mushy, as I remembered latkes of old; they were crispy on the outside and supple on the inside, the potatoes just cooked.  They held together beautifully and offered up an alluring aroma of caramelized onion and fragrant dill as they were grilled. With the sweet-tart contrast of the fig sauce slathered over the top, these were the perfect Sunday breakfast. 

Now, it seems the Sunday pancake options are limitless. So glad I start my days the way I do. 

To those who celebrate, Happy Hannukah!  (and Hanukkah, AND Chanukah!) :)

Two-Toned Potato Latkes

adapted from Notes from the Vegan Feast Kitchen

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While we ate these for breakfast, latkes are more often eaten as a side dish or appetizer with savory foods.  They’re great both ways.

3 small white or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and grated

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

1 large onion, grated

2 Tbsp. (10 ml.) extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup (110 g.) kamut flour or (100 g.) whole spelt flour

2 tsp. (10 ml.) baking powder

3/4 tsp. (7.5 ml.) fine sea salt

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds

2 Tbsp. (10 ml.) water

1 tsp. (5 ml.) garlic powder

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) dried dill weed

1/2 tsp. (2. 5 ml.) smoked paprika

Using a food processor or box grater, grate the potatoes and sweet potatoes and place in a large colander.  Squeeze the mixture with your hands as if squeezing a sponge to get out as much of the starchy liquid as you can.  Place in a large bowl.

Grate the onion and add it to the potato mixture along with the remaining ingredients.  Mix together very well, using your hands if necessary.

Heat a cast iron or other nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop the mixture into the pan, flattening the pancakes with a spatula (they should be fairly flat).  Cook about 3-4 minutes, until bottoms are golden; flip and cook on the other side another 3 minutes or so, until golden.  Keep pancakes warm as you continue to cook them.  Serve immediately with apple sauce, sour cream, ketchup, cranberry sauce, chutney, or other topping of choice.

Last Year at this Time: Last Minute Christmas Cookie [Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies]

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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